“Don’t stress about schoolwork. When your daughters return to school, their teachers will get them back on track. We are teachers and that is our Superpower” (Victoria Bryne, Salerno Secondary School, Galway, 20 April, 2020)
In many countries, Labor Day is a public holiday, and people enjoy their time off from jobs. But how many of us truly reflect on the significance of this day, especially during COVID-19?
Many parents who are struggling with homeschooling during this time have gained a new appreciation for the value of teachers. The viral social media post from Shonda Rhimes sums it up:
“Been homeschooling a 6-year old and an 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week”.
Homeschooling shows how complex and demanding a teacher’s work can be. And parents have taken notice. Today, on Labor Day, let us support the superpower of our educators, as my daughter’s teacher in the above quote, calls it.
I am saddened, however, that it has taken a pandemic and the closing of schools for 63 million teachers and almost 1.55 billion students to appreciate and value our teachers. With the sudden switch to remote learning, teachers are struggling with many challenges in their efforts to meet the development needs of their students, while also juggling homeschooling and caring for their own families.
Yet, they remain committed to their learners’ education, and emotional, social, cognitive, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. Stories abound of teachers’ concern for their students’ mental health, of teachers doing food drops, supporting special needs children, and checking in on children from insecure homes. Teachers care about our children’s wellbeing and their learning. But who is caring about the teachers’ wellbeing during COVID-19?
As a teacher myself, I am convinced that lifelong learning and ongoing professional development is paramount to teachers’ wellbeing. Our superheroes need to continue learning, especially during this time. They need time and space to reflect, to refresh, to update, and to develop new required skills. This learning can be done digitally and from home, either individually or in groups.
There are many online and phone-friendly learning courses available for teachers today, and top-rated free professional development courses that teachers can take. The most effective ones are based on best practice life-long learning approaches and strategies. Darling-Hammond and her colleagues’, who are all renowned teacher educators, did a review of 35 methodologically rigorous studies and highlighted the following best practices:
- Focus on content teachers want and need, especially pedagogy
- Use expert teachers
- Sustained, not once-off workshops or courses
- Provides coaching and mentoring
- Uses active methods
- Are collaborative
- Blended learning [courses need to be used by trainer]
- Flexible funding
I urge education sector managers to make teachers’ learning a priority, now and post COVID-19. Be sure to provide teachers with the time to learn. This is especially important for teachers facing the glaring digital learning skills-gap while working with children that have no access to computers at home. Globally 53% of all children fall into this category.
In countries where teachers do not have access to home computers or broadband internet, mobile technology can support their ongoing professional development during COVID-19. Some examples include the use of training video posts on WhatsApp in Zambia, followed by in-depth conference calls with the master teacher and peer support group.
Teachers in Cambodia continue to receive their coaching, but over the phone or using the internet. In Rwanda, ongoing professional development is now fully online with the use of pre-recorded or live teacher training sessions. The Commonwealth Education Trust developed a set of excellent teacher training courses that require the use of small amounts of data. Already many teachers in low-income countries are embracing this.
COVID-19 has proven that we are all lifelong learners. Indeed, we are adjusting and learning new behaviors every day. Let us decide, on Labor Day 2020, to continue our appreciation of teachers post-COVID, and to work towards their lifelong learning.
Teachers Matter. Teacher Motivation matters. Teachers are the key.